Jan 29, 2015

Ever wonder where stock Rainbow Trout come from? Look northeast of Lovell

LOVELL — Mother Nature is getting a helping hand, to the delight of Wyoming anglers.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department employees at Tillett Springs Rearing Station northeast of Lovell have been busy rearing and spawning fish.

On Dec. 17, those employees induced fertile Firehole River rainbow trout to lay approximately 340,000 eggs. Most will become fish.

By lightly squeezing the length of the female rainbow’s body, eggs are squirted out. The same technique is used to collect male milt to fertilize the eggs. Photo by Gib Mathers
About 5 percent of the eggs laid by rainbow trout in the wild survive to become live fish, said Brad Welch, hatchery supervisor at Tillett. Nature’s spawning beds are fraught with danger. Eggs in gravel beds can be crushed by that gravel, while insect larvae, raccoons, birds and other fish eat the eggs, Welch said.

Tillett, howeever, maintains a survival rate of more than 65 percent from egg to fish, Welch said.

The roughly 16-inch rainbows are kept in holding tanks before and after being relieved of their eggs or milt. Photo by Gib Mathers

At Tillett’s spawning building, employees took squirming females and males measuring about 16 inches from holding pens to collect their eggs and sperm.

“We will be crossing 4-year-old females with 3-year-old males and 3-year-old females with 4-year-old males,” Welch said in an email prior to the spawning operation. “The different age crosses are done to reduce the probability of crossing a sister with a brother or a father with a daughter. The concept is to maintain genetic integrity within the population.”

The fish were pre-sorted and held in separate pens or holding tanks.

Prior to spawning, employees sorted and checked the fish daily to make certain they were ready to lay eggs. The 4-year-old females had at least one of their pelvic fins clipped off to distinguish age difference. The three-year-old fish did not have any fins clipped, Welch said.

Concrete holding tanks separate the rainbows by age and sex to maintain genetic integrity while fertilizing the eggs. Photo by Gib Mathers

The spawning process closely resembled an assembly line. Spawning tables were set up to progress from the left to the right.

The far left table held anesthetic baths for the fish. The anesthetic — clove oil — is used to calm the rainbows and so make egg/sperm extraction easier, Welch said.

From left, Guy Campbell, hatchery assistant supervisor of development from Casper, and Chester Bettger, fish culturist from the Clarks Fork hatchery, watch Gregory Lehr, fish culture specialist at Tillett, ease a batch of Firehole River rainbow trout into the anesthetic bath to calm them. Photo by Gib Mathers

The rainbows’ next stop was the anesthetic rinse tub, followed by the spawning pans. The rinse is distilled water used to remove the anesthetic, said Gregory Lehr, fish culture specialist at Tillett. The employees “stripped” the eggs into the pans — large plastic bowls — and placed the fish into one of the recovery tubs at the head of the table. Then, no worse for wear, the trout were transferred back to the holding pens.
The female’s eggs are about the size of a pea. Photo by Gib Mathers

The eggs resembled tiny, shiny orange beads. Following an anesthetic and rinse, the males’ milt, or sperm, was added to the eggs in a pan. To extract eggs and milt, the employees gently squeezed the fish’s body downward, causing the gametes to jet from a fish rear like a squirt gun.

After the eggs were fertilized, a small amount of fresh water was added, and the bowl was gently swirled. A dash of water speeds sperm movement, Welch said. After the sperm is added, the eggs are rinsed again to remove any excrement and thus keep bacteria out, Welch said.

Pat Long, senior fish culturist at Tillett, thoroughly rinses the eggs to remove ovarian fluid, milt and any ordure to prevent the onset of bacteria. Photo by Gib Mathers

The approximate 340,000 eggs were sent to the Story hatchery to be incubated until they reach the eyed egg stage. Estimating a 35 percent loss from eggs to live fish, Clarks Fork hatchery will receive 133,000 eyed eggs from Story. Clark will then send back 88,000 to Tillett as 2 1/2-inch fish that Tillet will raise and stock as 7- to 9-inch fish. Clark will keep and raise the remaining 45,000 and stock as 7- to 9-inch fish.

Speas hatchery, near Casper, will get 153,000 eyed eggs from Story and plans to stock 130,000 4- to 5-inch fish.

There are 10 Game and Fish hatcheries in the state working in concert to raise a variety of fish species for anglers.

“And that’s how we get fish stocked all over the state,” Welch said.

Jeb Bush is Al Simpson's choice for president in 2016

Former U.S. Sen. Al Simpson of Cody supports former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush for president.

“He is an executive,” Simpson said. “He administered a state. He has a remarkably facile mind and
would outclass them all in a debate. Some are just lightweights, anyway.”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. Photo by Gage Skidmore under CC BY-SA 3.0
Several Republicans have announced or are leaning toward running for the White House. Bush, 61, has said he is considering a run.

Simpson said he isn’t bothered by the presumption that the Bush and Clinton families are dominating presidential politics.

“This is different than names,” he said. “This is a guy who has all the qualifications for president.”

Simpson said Bush, the son of former president George H.W. Bush and the younger brother of former President George W. Bush, “has a handle” on health care costs, the so-called “doc fixes” that ensure payments for health care providers, the solvency of Social Security and the “bloated defense budget.”

The former Wyoming senator also is a fan of Hillary Clinton but said she is not guaranteed the Democratic presidential nomination. The wife of former President Bill Clinton, herself a former first lady, New York senator and secretary of state, is seen as the Democratic frontrunner.

“I know her. She’s very able, very sharp,” Simpson said. “I think it will be a rough haul for her. I think she’s got a real primary on her hands with Elizabeth Warren.”

Warren, the liberal senator from Massachusetts, is being pushed to run by some of her supporters. She has yet to indicate if she will seek the White House and has said she hopes Clinton will run.

Simpson said he never wanted to be president, in large part because of the ceremonial aspect of the job as well as the pestering press.

“I could always handle the big stuff,” he said. “I couldn’t handle the crap ... because I’ve seen it.”

Simpson said he met the last 11 presidents, from Eisenhower to Obama, and knew several of them well, especially Presidents Ronald Reagan and “George the First,” as he called the senior Bush.

“Every one of them were remarkable people,” he said.

2015 brand renewal deadline March 1

The Wyoming Livestock Board reminds brand owners that all brand ID numbers ending with a dash five (- 5) must be renewed no later than midnight on March 1.

The brand recording office will send certified renewal letters soon to those who still owe renewal fees on their Wyoming brands. The board has more than 300 returned brands that could not be delivered to due to insufficient addresses.

“Although we have distributed those lists to various working groups and law enforcement agencies across Wyoming, spent hundreds of hours searching the Internet, making phone calls and trying to find relatives, we still have undeliverable brands in our files,” a board news release stated. “Currently, our brand records show approximately 2,857 brands that need to be renewed by midnight on March 1.”

Anyone unsure whether their address is current or whether their brand is up for renewal can contact the Livestock Board. Your renewal notice must accompany your payment.

After March 1, the renewal fee will be $300 plus an additional $150 for late fees.

To change the legal recording of a current brand record, a transfer of the record must occur as a separate action from renewing the brand.

After Dec. 31, all brands not renewed for the 2015 renewal period will be listed as abandoned brands and listed for public sale in early 2016.

For more information, call the Wyoming Livestock Board at 307-777-7515.

Photo: Northwest College's winter getaway

The Northwest College Board of Trustees visits with Scott and Becky Christensen at the Northwest College field station, located on the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, during a board retreat Jan. 13.

The Christensens manage the field station.

Pictured (clockwise from left) are NWC President Stefani Hicswa; Trustee Mark Westerhold; Cindy Cicci, Hicswa’s administrative assistant; Scott Christensen; consultant Ken Burke of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Trustee Dusty Spomer; Board President John Housel; Trustee Carolyn Danko; Trustee Nada Larson and Becky Christensen.

Jan 27, 2015

Powell woman crowned Miss Cody Stampede for 2015

Miss Cody Stampede 2015 Nicki Seckman. Courtesy photo
Nicki Seckman of Powell is Miss Cody Stampede 2015.

She was crowned during a coronation celebration in Cody on Jan. 17, after serving 2014 as the Lady-in-Waiting.

According to the Miss Cody Stampede Royalty website, "The title of Miss Cody Stampede comes with the responsibility of being a leader for her Lady-in-Waiting and Princess. She must set an example and be a role-model for her title."

The website says the title-holder must also promote the Cody Stampede and the Cody community around the region, plan a fundraiser for her year (typically a coronation dinner and auction), host visiting royalty during the Cody Stampede, work with the Cody Stampede Board and Royalty Committee on public engagements, participate in one non-rodeo community service project and compete in the Miss Rodeo Wyoming Pageant held in August.

The 2015 Pageant, to choose this year's Lady in Waiting and senior and junior princesses, is scheduled for March 14. To be eligible, contestants must be between 19 and 25 years old, have lived in Park or Big Horn counties for at least a year, have never been pregnant, have access to a well-broken horse they're comfortable with and can ride to royalty events and not have been charged with a felony in any state.

For more information, see the group's Facebook page or website.

Yellowstone under fire for killing some bison

A bison advocacy group is opposing the killing of up to 900 bison exiting Yellowstone National Park’s northern boundary. So far, nearly 300 bison have been captured and will be killed.

A Yellowstone official said removal is necessary to control the population, but the Buffalo Field Campaign in West Yellowstone and Gardiner, Mont., believes the park can support more bison than allowed by the agreement struck in 2000 by the federal government and the state of Montana.

Meanwhile, a Montana livestock representative said the bison must be separated from cattle to prevent the domesticated bovines from contracting brucellosis many Yellowstone bison carry. Brucellosis is a bacterial disease that often causes female ungulates to abort their fetuses. Although uncommon in the United States, the disease also can be spread to humans from unpasteurized milk products or handling an infected reproductive tract or fetus.

A bison advocacy group is disputing the removal of up to 900 bison leaving Yellowstone National Park. Keeping the population in check is the National Park Service’s rationale while a cattle industry spokesman said removal prevents cattle from contracting brucellosis from bison. File photo by Toby Bonner

Members of the Interagency Bison Management Plan (IBMP) agreed to a plan to remove 800 to 900 bison that migrate out of the park’s northern boundary this winter to reduce population growth and the potential for a mass migration into Montana, according to a Jan. 15 National Park Service news release.

“This winter, hunting in Montana is expected to remove up to 350 bison from the population, while an additional 500 to 600 animals that leave the park boundary may be captured and transferred to tribal groups for processing and distribution of meat and other parts to their members for nutrition and cultural practices,” the release stated.

The management plan includes the Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Montana Department of Livestock, Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, InterTribal Buffalo Council, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and Nez Perce Tribe, according to the Park Service.

There were approximately 3,500 bison in the northern herd and 1,400 in the central herd in August, according to the Park Service. Under the interagency plan, the agreement is to maintain 3,000 to 3,500 bison in the park.

“We do not feel that would compromise the genetics of the population,” said Al Nash, Yellowstone National Park spokesman.

However, Stephany Seay, media and outreach specialist for Buffalo Field Campaign, said the Park Service’s own study said Yellowstone could support 6,200 bison. The Interagency figure is not based on science or the land’s carrying capacity, but rather what the cattle industry wants, Seay said.

Bison should be allowed to live in the tens of millions of acres of national forest surrounding Yellowstone, Seay said. They are allowed outside the park during the winter, but are driven back into the park near Gardiner on May 1 and West Yellowstone on May 15 to prevent their mingling with cattle, said Christian Mackay, executive officer for the Montana Department of Livestock in the Helena office.

Brucellosis infecting cattle is their concern.

“That is why we’re involved in this,” said Mackay.

There has been no known transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to Montana cattle, Nash said. Fifty to 60 percent of Yellowstone bison are brucellosis-positive.

Cattle haven’t been infected by bison because the animals are kept separate. Federal law mandates a domestic cow infected with brucellosis must be slaughtered. Some cattle have contracted brucellosis over the last seven years in Madison (northwest of Yellowstone) and Paradise (north of Yellowstone) valleys, but Mackay said he is pretty sure elk brought the disease.

Seay estimated 250 bison had been captured this year, with 101 of those shipped for slaughter. She estimated another 80 had been killed by hunters Jan. 21.

There has been no known transmission of brucellosis from Yellowstone bison to Montana cattle. Fifty to 60 percent of Yellowstone bison are brucellosis-positive.

The area around the Stephens Creek facility, the site of capture operations, is closed to the public until further notice for safety reasons, according to the Park Service.

“Exact capture and slaughter numbers are unknown because, for the second year in a row, Yellowstone officials refuse to be open with the public about their bison operations, stating they will only give out reports every two weeks,” Seay said. “Buffalo Field Campaign has requested media tours of the Stephens Creek trap numerous times, but those requests have gone unanswered.”

The Park Service is considering a media tour, Nash said.

“The Yellowstone buffalo are America's last wild, migratory herds and the most important bison population that exists,” the Field Campaign states. “They've been added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List for being ‘threatened with near extinction,’ and even Montana designates the species ‘in greatest conservation need’ with conditions ‘making [bison] vulnerable to global extinction.’”

The park’s bison are not necessarily the last free roaming herd. There are other smaller herds elsewhere, but Yellowstone bison have been around for thousands of years. Yellowstone bison have no cattle genes.

“And it certainly has the most robust genetics,” Nash said.

Many public and private bison herds contain evidence of past interbreeding with domestic cattle, according to the Nature Conservancy.

In the early 1900s, there were 26 bison in Yellowstone. The herd was supplemented with some Montana and Texas ranch bison. Since then the population has grown steadily.

“It’s well suited to propagate its species,” Mackay said.

The Buffalo Field Campaign wants bison to receive federal protection as a threatened or endangered species.
The Park Service knows some disapprove the bison management plan.

“We’ve heard those criticisms, and we are taking steps to look at the possibility of a new plan,” Nash said.

A new management draft plan will be out this year for public review.

The Park Service also is studying the feasibility of a program to transfer Yellowstone bison to locations outside the park to augment existing bison herds or begin new herds. At this time the law states that Yellowstone bison cannot be transferred to other herds or new pastures because of the potential to spread brucellosis, Nash said.

The Buffalo Field Campaign and Western Watersheds Project believe bison should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, filing a petition to list the animals in November.

“I think people need to recognize what is going on in Montana and Yellowstone is tragic,” Seay said.

Counties seek dollars, aid from state

County officials from around the Big Horn Basin have given state lawmakers their wish list for the current session.

At a meeting with local legislators last month, commissioners and other elected officials from Park County and the rest of the Basin asked lawmakers to give their counties:
  • more money in general.

  • the ability to get state worker’s compensation coverage for themselves.

  • the ability to put county employees in the state’s insurance pool.

  • free public access to parts of Buffalo Bill State Park.
Getting more state dollars wa
s one of the counties’ priorities at the Dec. 18 meeting.

Gov. Matt Mead has recommended that legislators send $25 million to the state’s cities, towns and counties in the supplemental budget.

“The $25 million is wonderful. We (commissioners) are going to stand to that,” said then-Washakie County Commissioner Ron Harvey, whose term ended at the end of December.

Park County Commissioner Tim French
However, Park County Commissioner Tim French said he’d like to see more money and brought up the state’s reserve accounts that are being saved for a “rainy day.”

“A lot of the counties, it’s raining out there in the counties,” French said. “I think there should be more money sent back to the counties. It’s the county’s money that’s sent to the state.”

He urged lawmakers to “share the wealth” and go above the $25 million recommended by the governor.

“It kind of chaps my hide to have to go down to (the State Loan and Investment Board) and beg for our money back,” French said.

Park County Commissioner Loren Grosskopf later suggested the state should “give every county $100 million (in a trust) and let us use the earnings from that so wouldn’t have to come down to Cheyenne and ask for money.”

Sen. Hank Coe, R-Cody, said the state’s reserve accounts would be discussed during the session.

“The discussion’s going to be, how much do we want to keep in a rainy day account, knowing that there’s peaks and valleys?” Coe said.

He and others noted that plummeting oil prices are going to impact state and local governments’ revenue.

Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley
Sen. Ray Peterson, R-Cowley, expressed a willingness to open the state’s coffers to help out struggling local governments.

“The state is only as strong as our counties and towns,” he said.

Washakie County Commissioner Aaron Anderson suggested that, as counties’ buildings and roads deteriorate and the state sits on its savings, Wyoming is losing buying power to inflation. In his county, Anderson wonders if some paved roads will have to be torn up and returned to gravel to save money.

“It’s in the public eye now that that (state’s primary reserve) fund is up to almost $2 billion, and there are infrastructure needs,” said Park County Commissioner Bucky Hall.

Commissioners also asked the lawmakers to allow them and county assessors, attorneys, treasurers, clerks and clerks of district court, to become eligible for the state’s workers’ compensation insurance. For reasons unknown to the officials at last month’s meeting, sheriffs and coroners are the only elected county officials currently eligible for the insurance. (All county employees are covered.)

“We are working on behalf of the county, and there’s always a chance there can be an accident,” said Grosskopf. Noting that the coroner is eligible and commissioners are not, Grosskopf asked, “Why? Is he out in the field more than the county commissioners?”

Coe is sponsoring a bill to make the county employees eligible for the coverage, with Peterson, Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, among the bill’s co-sponsors.

“It’s one of those bills that’s going to take some political courage to step up and do,” Peterson said in December, explaining that it might look like “we’re putting a feather in our own cap.”

The Wyoming Department of Workforce Services estimates that, at current salary rates, adding the coverage to the other elected county officials will cost the counties around $250,800 a year. For Park County, it would cost around $12,700 per year.

Along the same lines, counties are also looking for some state help on health insurance, wanting the opportunity to have their county employees pay into and be covered under the state’s pool.

“We need options. As county government, it’s getting more and more expensive,” Harvey said. One county, he said, can’t afford to insure its employees.

“I think there should be more money sent back to the counties. It’s the county’s money that’s sent to the state,” said Park County Commissioner Tim French.

Harvey didn’t know how many counties would choose to join the state’s plan, but he said if nothing else, the option would give the counties better leverage when talking to insurance companies.

The state gave school districts the option to join years ago and, “if you allowed the schools to come in, why not the counties?” asked Grosskopf.

Peterson warned that being a part of the state insurance system might “remove one more arrow from your quiver” when counties come asking for state money, saying lawmakers’ reply might be, “The state’s helping you out with your insurance.”

“It’s an arrow we’d gladly give up,” said Hall.

Fellow Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden also asked the lawmakers to support a bill that would allow free access to the undeveloped portions of Buffalo Bill State Park on the South Fork. Park administrators recently began charging for access in the area.

“It’s very important to us in Park County ... because it’s just not right,” Tilden said.

Krone is sponsoring a bill that would give the state parks director the ability to waive fees in certain areas.

Park, Big Horn, Hot Springs and Washakie county commissioners plan to further lobby the Big Horn Basin’s lawmakers at a dinner they’re hosting Wednesday night at the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne.

The tab for the annual dinner averages around $600 and is split between the four counties. It’s a chance for commissioners to get lawmakers’ undivided attention and commissioners have said it’s worthwhile.

Park County Commissioner French — who’s taken ribbing from fellow commissioners for voting against the dinner contract in the past — “abstained” from voting when it came up at the commission’s Dec. 16 meeting. Abstentions are typically only used for conflicts of interest.

Snowpack declines over most of Wyoming

Although one local site was up a notch, snowpack continues to decline over much of Wyoming.

“We fell 4 percent from 101 to 97 percent of (state) median this past week and it looks like we will fall again this week,” said Lee Hackleman, water supply specialist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office in Casper. “The northern half of the state is still looking OK, but the southern half not so much.”

For example, in northern Wyoming the Tongue Basin was 102 percent snow water equivalent (SWE) Jan. 26; 5 percent higher than last week. In southeastern Wyoming the South Platte basin was 79 percent SWE; dropping 9 percent from one week ago.

Those figures are according to a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010 calculated by the NRCS.

Closer to home, Big Horn Basin was 105 percent SWE on Jan. 26 compared to 104 percent a week ago. The Shoshone basin was 115 percent SWE, compared to 120 percent one week ago.

Work on Trapper Rodeo Arena continues; students allowed in

Work to address fire code issues in Northwest College’s Trapper Rodeo Arena has begun, and the facility opened to students in the NWC rodeo program on Friday. However, the building, off of Road 2AB, remains closed to the public until the work is completed.

Rodeo practice starts in February, NWC President Stefani Hicswa said, and she hopes to have the code violations corrected by then.

At Hicswa’s request, the Northwest College Board of Trustees, during its Jan. 13 meeting, approved spending up to $140,000 from the college’s emergency repair contingency fund to correct the problems. (That fund contained $700,000, she said.)

The Northwest College Trapper Rodeo Arena remains closed to the public until fire code safety violations have been corrected. Work to correct the violations is proceeding, with NWC rodeo program participants now allowed inside. Photo by Ilene Olson

Prior to the board’s vote, employees did what they could to address simple problems and identify corrections needed for more complicated issues and the cost of needed changes and equipment.

Hicswa made the decision to close the facility Dec. 19 after an inspection by the Wyoming Fire Marshal’s office found several fire code violations.

“I told the maintenance crew before Christmas that they could spend up to $10,000, but the rest of it had to wait” for the board’s approval, Hicswa said.

Trustee Jim Vogt of Powell asked why the problems weren’t found before.

“When we purchased the building, we were led to believe it was up to snuff,” Vogt said.

Hicswa noted that she wasn’t here then, “but it could be due to the fact that it was private facility and now is a public facility, with different standards,” she said.

“When we purchased the building, we were led to believe it was up to snuff,” said NWC trustee Jim Vogt.

Trustee Mark Westerhold of Cody was president of the board at the time of the building’s purchase.

“I asked that at board meetings, if they had done all inspections, and was assured they had been done,” Westerhold said. “I think you’re right, it’s a difference between private and public. I don’t think they ever thought about that. It was in some disrepair, and we knew about that.”

Many of the maintenance and repair needs at the facility have been completed over the past two years by welding students, under the direction of welding instructor Bill Johnson. That work included building new metal barns and fences, putting water tanks in horse pens. The arrangement benefited both the students and the college, with the students receiving internship experience and pay, and the college saving thousands of dollars. But, until this month’s inspection, no one saw the fire safety problems coming.

Hicswa said the inspection was routinely scheduled and was not specially ordered. Hicswa said Rodeo Director Del Nose has been very responsive, as has NWC Plant Manager Dave Plute.

Fire inspector called NWC's rodeo arena 'a total mess'

Northwest College's Rodeo Arena was reported to be “a total mess” and the inside of the building “a fire hazard from one end to the other” when an inspector with the Wyoming Fire Marshal's office visited late last year.

The fire safety report, signed by Inspector Dale Link of Worland, found a lengthy list of fixes were needed at the facility off of Road 2AB to comply with code.

“Considering this facility is part of a public facility and the fact the students and the general public frequent this building I would have to consider this building as UNSAFE for use,” Link wrote. “There are multiple areas that are fire hazards, electrical hazards, combustible liquid hazards, poor exists and overall very poor maintenance. It is my belief that this building be limited in use until such time as it can be made safe.”

Northwest College President Stefani Hicswa shut down the facility on Dec. 19 after receiving the report and the college immediately began working on the fixes. The rodeo arena recently re-opened to NWC students in the rodeo program, though the facility remains closed to the public while work continues.

Link, who will be retiring soon, said the inspector who replaces him should do a follow-up inspection no later than June 1 and “if at that time the corrections have not been made, that the issue be turned over to the attorney general for further action.”

Here's a list of the problems identified by Link:
  • Breaker box was blocked by debris door and was not functional and not labeled.

  • Fire extinguishers are required to be placed through the building for access within 75 feet of any location.

  • Install nonsmoking signs.

  • Fuel storage tank and emergency generator must be protected from vehicle damage. • Extension cords must be removed.

  • Electrical code violations must be corrected.

  • Storage of hay inside created a hazard with the use of tank heaters, etc.

  • There should be a fire separation between the two portions of the building. 

  • Emergency generator must be maintained and tested.

  • Waste material — accumulations of wastepaper, hay, straw, weeds, litter or combustible or flammable waste or rubbish of any type shall not be permitted to remain.

  • An emergency plan needs to be developed, practiced and posted for all occupants to see.

  • Because it is an educational facility, a lockdown plan should be developed and/or updated.

  • Add sloped surfaces for elevation changes.

  • Install appropriate locks.

  • Exits shall be free of obstructions, including snow and ice.

  • Exits must be illuminated.

  • Exits must be configured so as not to reduce capacity to less than half of the required capacity. 

  • There shall be no projections lower than 34 inches above the floor or ground.

  • Exit doors shall be of the pivoted or side-hinge type.

  • There shall be a floor or landing on each side of a door.

BLM seeks comments on Pryor mustangs’ birth control

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has launched a public comment period on an environmental assessment to analyze the continued use of fertility control on the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range north of Lovell. The 30-day comment period began Jan. 20.

Fertility control has been used in the Pryors since 2001.

Approximately 60 mares receive fertility treatment each year, said Jared Bybee, BLM wild horse and burro specialist in Billings.

Part of the Pryor Mountain Wild Horse Range is within Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area and it's not uncommon to see mustangs there, such as these, a stone’s throw from Devil Canyon. The BLM wants to continue using birth control on the Pryor horses. Photo by Gib Mathers
“The Billings field office is excited to be on the cusp of nearly eliminating the need for wild horse removals due to the use of fertility control administered in the field,” said Jim Sparks, Billings BLM field manager.

There are 159 adult wild horses plus 15 or 16 foals born last year, so the potential is for 170 to 175 adults this spring. The appropriate management level is 120 adults.

The last effort to remove wild horses was in 2012, Bybee said. That year, 38 adults and six foals were removed using bait traps. (Bait traps are temporary corrals that use bait to lure the mustangs in for capture.) There were approximately 170 horses on the 38,000-acre range at the time of the removal, according to the BLM.

The Billings bureau office is accepting public comment and is requesting any information, data or analysis pertinent to the environmental analysis.

The assessment is available for review on the BLM website, as is a letter explaining the proposal.

Email comments to blm_mt_wildhorse@blm.gov by Feb. 18 or mail or hand-deliver written comments to James M. Sparks, Billings Field Office, 5001 Southgate Drive, Billings, MT 59101.

After the comments are analyzed and incorporated into the assessment where appropriate, the BLM will issue a final decision.

Ice climber injured, rescued after fall on South Fork

An ice climber from Auburn, Wash., was airlifted from the “Mean Green” ice flow near the Majo Ranch on Saturday after he was struck by a rock.

Eiji Sugi, 40, was climbing with a friend on the ice flow on the east side of the Shoshone River, according to a release from the Park County Sheriff’s Office. It's located southeast of the Cabin Creek Trailhead parking area at the end of the South Fork Road.

Search and Rescue volunteers rescued an injured Washington state man from the ‘Mean Green’ ice flow, pictured at lower left in this file photo from Park County Sheriff's Office.
The friends had climbed the ice flow and just completed a descent to the base when a softball-size rock became dislodged and fell approximately 80 to 100 feet, striking Sugi on the left side of the lower back. He experienced such extreme pain that he could not move, according to the release.

A deputy from the Park County Sheriff’s Office, an officer from the Bureau of Land Management, Park County Search and Rescue and West Park Ambulance Wilderness Rescue Team immediately responded to the scene after the call was received at 3:02 p.m. A helicopter from EagleMed Medical Transport Services out of Cody was also dispatched.

Rescue personnel reached Sugi at approximately 4:50 p.m. He showed no signs of paralysis; however he appeared to have several broken ribs.

The Wilderness Rescue Team stabilized Sugi on scene. However, due to the steepness of the terrain and the fact that it was snow-covered and slippery, the Search and Rescue personnel had to lower him to more stable ground by ropes utilizing a controlled descent maneuver.

The teams carried Sugi to the waiting helicopter where he was flown to West Park Hospital at 8:50 p.m.

His condition at this time is unknown. (UPDATE: Sugi is recovering and passing along his thanks to the emergency responders who rescued him.)

Park County Sheriff Scott Steward praised the efforts of the Search and Rescue unit.

“I cannot say it often enough,” Steward said. “These folks are volunteers who are ready at a moment’s notice to risk their own safety in service to others. We are fortunate to have them.”

Wyoming House moves to legalize picking up road kill

Road-killed wildlife has long been deemed gross and illegal to pick up in Wyoming, but state lawmakers have taken a first step toward removing one of those stigmas.

The Wyoming House voted 39-21 last week to pass a new law that would allow people to pick up road kill with Game and Fish permission. There are some ways for people to collect road kill under current state law, but the bill would make it easier and more broadly available.

A proposed bill could allow citizens to collect road-killed deer — like this one shown off of Lane 11H south of Powell. Photo by CJ Baker
“I thought, you know what, if somebody wants to pick one of them things up — I wouldn’t touch them — but if somebody wants to pick one up, I guess it’s their prerogative to pick one up,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, of his aye vote on the bill.

Bill sponsor Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, said only about 6 percent of road kill is fit for human
consumption, but could be used for food for pets. The bill also allows individuals to collect road kill for scientific purposes. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department would be in charge of writing the specific rules for collecting road kill.

A total of 18 states, including Montana, have similar programs, Zwonitzer said. He said some states’ laws have led to entrepreneurs who make a business of selling things like horns, hides and even rabbits’ feet from road-killed animals.

“There some weird companies out there,” Zwonitzer said at Jan. 16 committee hearing on the bill.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Scott Talbott told the House’s Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee that he’s been told by his counterpart in Montana that their road-kill program is going pretty well overall. Montana’s biggest problem has been altercations over who gets to claim a desirable road-killed animal, Talbott was told.

“They have had some altercations of people who have hit (an animal) — specifically moose —
alongside the road and somebody else stops and says, ‘I want that moose,’” he said with a bit of a chuckle.

If a large, trophy-quality animal is hit in Wyoming, Talbott said Game and Fish usually gets immediate calls about the carcass and “most generally they’re gone before our people can get there — whether they be trophy bull elk or large mule deer.”

Certain animals could not be collected under any circumstances under the proposed bill, including bighorn sheep, mountain goats and federally protected species (such as grizzly bears, gray wolves and eagles). Talbott noted the bighorn sheep along the forks of the Shoshone River often stand in the road during their rut.

“In November, it would be quite simple to run over a bighorn ram on the North Fork or the South Fork and throw it in the back of your truck,” he said, saying the animals are worth tens of thousands of dollars on the black market.

Talbott said there have been situations where people have intentionally run down wildlife in the state and been prosecuted, but “fortunately that isn’t a common violation.” Zwonitzer wonders whether many would be willing ruin a vehicle to run over an animal, but said the bill would allow the Game and Fish Department to inspect the animal before giving permission to take it.

How much time department staff would have to check on road-killed animals, particularly during hunting season, could be an issue.

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Scott Talbott testifies before the House's Travel, Recreation and Wildlife Committee on Jan. 16. Photo by CJ Baker
“Our people certainly don’t have the personnel available to respond to a road kill call the first week of October,” Talbott said.

That concern over department resources has been echoed by the Wyoming Game Wardens Association.

“Us as game wardens, we want to get out in the field, we want to protect Wyoming’s wildlife. We don’t want to be having to come back to town, or in some game wardens’ districts, it’s all they would be doing is making sure ... there’s nothing hokey about it (the animals) or they were all accidentally taken by a motor vehicle,” Casper Game Warden Daniel Beach recently told TV station KCWY of Casper.

The Game and Fish Department’s Green River office recently reminded residents that it’s illegal and unsafe to collect road kill, citing the danger of stopping along the road and the unsafe nature of road-killed meat.

Outside of Northrup, the rest of the Big Horn Basin’s delegation in the House voted against the bill. That included Rep. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, who sits on the wildlife Committee.

“I think they got plenty to do,” Laursen said of Game and Fish employees. “I don’t think they have time for that (road kill).”

He would also rather have the dead animals collected by the Wyoming Department of Transportation’s clearly marked vehicles than by citizens simply pulled off to the side of the road.

“I think it’s just dangerous,” Laursen told the Tribune.

Sam Krone, R-Cody, Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis and Mike Greear, R-Worland also voted no.

“I thought, you know what, if somebody wants to pick one of them things up — I wouldn’t touch them — but if somebody wants to pick one up, I guess it’s their prerogative to pick one up,” said Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell.

Backers of the bill included the rest of Laursen’s colleagues on the wildlife committee and Wyoming Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife.

“There’s something about wanton waste wildlife that just kind of rubs us a little wrong,” Bob Wharff, the executive director of the sportsmen’s association, told the wildlife committee, adding, “I would much rather see those animals that have unfortunately met their demise on a street or highway put to use as opposed to just left to waste.”

Several representatives supported the bill because they hoped it would allow carcasses to be removed more quickly.

Whether the bill will make it through the Senate remains to be seen; Northrup suspects it will fail in the Legislature’s upper body.

With no pun apparently intended, department director Talbott said that if the bill does become a law, it would probably be next January before the new road-kill rules and regulations “hit the street.”

Jan 22, 2015

Park County Republicans blast governor on gay marriage

Gov. Matt Mead should ignore a federal judge and direct the state’s county clerks to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, the Park County Republican Party says.

Local Republican leaders told Mead in a letter sent last week that “you violated your oath of office to defend Wyoming and our statutes” by not choosing not to appeal the October ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state.

The Park County GOP said U.S. District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl of Casper had no authority to void the state’s laws that define marriage as between a man and a woman and said they were “shocked and disappointed” that Mead didn’t appeal. You can read the letter below.

Mead said in a prepared statement provided to the Tribune that he’s been firm in his personal stance that “family is foundational and marriage is between a man and a woman.”

“But we need to recognize where we are with the courts, and I do recognize that,” Mead said.

The Park County Republican Party’s letter recommended not recognizing the federal court’s decision.

“We believe you are our best line of defense against such intrusion and we strongly recommend that you counter the unconstitutional overreach of federal District Judge Scott Skavdahl,” reads the party leaders’ letter. “This can easily be done by utilizing the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amendment and by instructing the county clerks to issue marriage licenses with the Wyoming state statutes.”

Park County Republican Party Chairman Larry French said in an interview that it would take some guts to reject the federal government’s order, but “all the governor would have to say is, ‘You’re not welcome here.’”

French added later that, “this state government is scared to death of the federal government and drunk on federal money.”

Gov. Matt Mead
Mead said in his response to the county party’s letter that “these individuals or any other groups are free to pursue any recourse they believe is available. I prefer constructive dialogue about important issues.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” he said.

The Park County party’s elected precinct committee people, collectively known as the central committee, voted overwhelmingly on Dec. 16 to send a letter to Mead, French said. The central committee allowed its executive committee — made up of French, party vice chairman Hank Whitelock, state committeeman Bob Berry, state committeewoman Echo Renner, treasurer Vince Vanata and secretary Laurie Sorum — to write the letter, French said.

The local Republicans’ action followed a similar letter sent in early December by the Goshen County GOP. The Goshen County Republicans wrote that Mead “was remiss in not strenuously supporting” the party’s platform, which opposes gay marriage. The party’s letter asked Mead and the Legislature’s leaders to “do all they can from this point forward to support and promote our official party platform planks relating to family and marriage,” though it didn’t specifically ask them to ignore the court order.

French said he hadn’t read Skavdahl’s ruling voiding Wyoming’s ban on gay marriage, but the party chairman said that federal decision and others that rejected Wyoming’s wolf management plan and expanded the boundaries of the Wind River Indian Reservation are all examples of unconstitutional infringements on the state’s rights.

“Interestingly, when I was fighting the case in Wyoming federal district court and a separate case in Wyoming state court, I did not hear from these individuals,” Gov. Mead said.

Skavdahl’s ruling was based on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals’ conclusion that Utah and Oklahoma’s bans on gay marriages violated their citizens’ 14th Amendment rights.

“Under the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, those who wish to marry a person of the same sex are entitled to exercise the same fundamental right as is recognized for persons who wish to marry a person of the opposite sex,” the appellate court ruled.

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 10th Circuit’s ruling, leaving it in place as precedent for federal courts in Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico. Skavdahl had expressed reluctance about striking down Wyoming’s marriage laws (saying it would have been better for the issue to be addressed by legislative action), but wrote “that ship has sailed.”

“It is not the desire or preference of this court to, with the stroke of a pen, erase a state’s legislative enactments,” Skavdahl wrote Oct. 17. “Nonetheless, the binding precedent (of the 10th Circuit rulings) mandate this result, and this court will adhere to its constitutional duties and abide by the rule of law.”

Mead’s Attorney General, Peter Michael, had concluded that appealing Skavdahl’s ruling back to the same 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that started the process by striking down Utah’s and Oklahoma’s marriage laws would “result in delay but not a different result.”

The legal landscape could change in coming months, however. The Supreme Court may provide a definitive answer by the end of June as to whether the 14th Amendment does require states to let same-sex couples marry. The high court agreed last week to take up the question in response to challenges to marriage laws in Ohio, Tennessee, Michigan and Kentucky.

~By CJ Baker

The Park County Republican Party's letter to Gov. Matt Mead

Jan 20, 2015

State's snowmelt is looking promising

Thus far, the water supply outlook for this spring and summer is looking good across much of Wyoming.

Near normal (90 to 105 percent) snowmelt streamflow volumes are expected across almost all major basins across Wyoming, said Jim Fahey, Wyoming National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hydrologist in Riverton on Jan. 8.

Above average streamflow volumes are expected across portions of the Shoshone River drainage and the Powder River watershed.

The Sweetwater River basin as well as lower portions of the Wind River watershed are forecast to have below-normal streamflow volumes during the upcoming snowmelt season, Fahey said.

Wyoming reservoir storages are slightly above average for January, running 100 to 105 percent, Fahey said.

Buffalo Bill Reservoir was nearly 72 percent full with 463,692 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 318.8 cubic feet per second (CFS) and outflow was 354.6 CFS, as of Jan. 15, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

Big Horn Lake was 89 percent full with 908,144 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 2,318.8 CFS and outflow was 2,684.8 CFS on Jan. 15, bureau statistics show.

Boysen Reservoir was more than 91 percent full with 675,870 acre feet of storage. Reservoir Inflow was 734.3 CFS and outflow was 920.3 CFS Jan. 15, according to the bureau.

Current water year (October-December) precipitation across Wyoming is nearly 100 percent of average, and December’s precipitation was nearly 140 percent of average, Fahey said.

Shoshone basin’s SWE was 119 percent and Big Horn’s was 109 percent on Jan. 12, according to the NRCS. The statewide snow water equivalent (SWE) average was 103 percent on Jan. 12, according to a 30-year average from 1981 to 2010 calculated by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Mountain snowpack across Wyoming was 100 to 105 percent of normal by early January.

Snowpack water numbers and/or SWEs were the highest across basins west of the Continental Divide, varying between 115 to 140 percent of median. SWEs across basins east of the Continental Divide varied from 85 to 110 percent of median, Fahey said.

Cody airport passenger numbers fly up in 2014

Cody's airport had the highest number of passengers ever recorded last year.

“It was a record year for the Yellowstone Regional Airport,” said the airport’s manager, Bob Hooper.

Yellowstone Regional Airport officials say 2014 was a busy year -- and that 2015 has started that way as well. Photo courtesy YRA
The airport boarded 32,301 passengers in 2014, exceeding 2013 by 4.2 percent.

A total of 63,634 passengers traveled through the airport last year.

Airport officials attribute the increase in passenger numbers to ticket prices that are kept competitive with out-of-state airports and a focus on offering convenient flight schedules for vacation travelers during the heavy summer tourism season. The addition of a new non-stop flight to Chicago on Sundays during the peak tourist season also was a major factor in the increased passenger numbers.

Yellowstone Regional Airport also pitches its complimentary free parking and the conveniences offered in the new terminal building, like an efficient check-in process, state-of-the-art security screening and Norma’s Mexican Restaurant.

The airport offers daily jet service on United Express to Denver and Delta Connection to Salt Lake City. In addition, five major car rental companies are available at the airport.

Ice rescue training aims to save victims and rescuers

Search-and-rescue team members from Park, Washakie and Fremont Counties took part in ice rescue training over the weekend. Here, during Sunday's hands-on training, a participant is ‘rescued’ in Buffalo Bill Reservoir by holding on to a hard plastic float ring pulled in by another participant. In the background, other class members use ice picks to punch another hole. Photo by Ilene Olson
The Park County Sheriff’s Office hosted a two-day ice rescue course for search-and-rescue personnel Saturday and Sunday.

The training focused on the skills necessary to conduct open ice self-rescues effectively as well as the rescue of victims who have become trapped by falling through the ice.

Classroom training Saturday included sessions on rescue skills and techniques such as pre-planning, evaluation of the rescue environment, equipment, rope rescue, personal safety and self-rescue, as well as ice processes and properties.

Day two took place at the Buffalo Bill Reservoir, where students watched and conducted open-ice rescues using techniques taught in the class. The course, “Ice Rescue Technician,” was conducted by representatives of Rescue 3 International of Wilton, Calif., and was attended by search and rescue personnel from Park, Washakie and Fremont counties.

On the left, rescuers examine a buoyant sling after using it on a fellow classmate. The sling is placed under the victim’s arms, the ends are drawn together with a rope, then rescuers pull the victim to safety. In the center, a rescuer throws a hard plastic ring to a victim before pulling him out. And at right, a class member uses a pontoon raft to navigate over water and ice. Photo by Ilene Olson
Instructors were Dick Rice, owner of Alaska Rescues in Anchorage, Alaska, and K.C. Bess, who works and resides in Jackson. Both are certified contract instructors for Rescue 3 International.

“Every agency that anticipates an ice rescue should prepare,” Sheriff Scott Steward said in a prepared statement.

Steward, who attended the classroom training, added, “It is often the quality of the training that determines the victim’s chances for survival, while at the same time ensuring the rescuers’ safety. This training is a good start, but one-time training isn’t enough. Ongoing practice is vital.

“These two elements, combined with actual calls, give our search and rescue personnel the ability to conduct a safe and effective rescue when the time comes,” he said.

 Rescue 3 International, a recognized leader in ice, water and flood rescue in 33 countries, was founded in 1979 after a California search and rescue team nearly lost one of its own during a water rescue. It provides flood, water, ice, and rope rescue training with an emphasis keeping rescuers from becoming victims.

The Park County Search and Rescue Unit is comprised of 25-30 local men and women volunteers from all walks of life who are ready at a moment’s notice to respond and provide state-of-the-art rescue techniques to those in need.

To learn more about the unit, go to the Park County Sheriff’s webpage.

Governor: It’s time to expand Medicaid

CHEYENNE — Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead still doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act and still questions whether it’s financially sustainable. But he says it’s time for Wyoming to use the federal money made available in the act (often called Obamacare or the ACA) to help lower-income residents with their medical bills.

Mead’s administration has proposed a plan that would expand Medicaid benefits to thousands of uninsured Wyomingites under the health care law.

“We don’t have to like the (Affordable Care Act); we can agree that it needs to continue to be fixed, if not done away with, but we are in a place now where we’re rejecting $100 million a year that is going to other states, in a place now where we have legitimate needs — 17,000-plus Wyoming citizens, many of whom are hard-working,” Mead said Friday, as he addressed representatives of the state’s newspapers.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead is photographed as he addresses members of the Wyoming Press Association on Jan. 16 in Cheyenne. Photo by Tom Lawrence

Currently, people qualify for Medicaid only if their income is low and they meet certain conditions (like being pregnant or disabled).

The Wyoming Department of Health’s proposed SHARE plan, following Affordable Care Act guidelines, would make Medicaid healthcare help available to anyone making less than 138 percent of the federal poverty level (around $16,100 for an individual; $32,900 for a family of four). Under the Department of Health’s proposal, those covered under the plan would have to pay certain deductibles when they receive care, and people making between 101 and 138 percent of the poverty level would have to also pay monthly premiums.

The program would end if the federal government backed out of its promises to foot at least 90 percent of the costs.

“What I don’t want is for us to go through this and the Legislature will say, ‘We don’t like the SHARE plan so we have no plan,’” Mead said.

The Legislature’s health committee disfavors the SHARE plan; it has recommended an alternative plan that instead would give the covered individuals health savings accounts. The committee’s leaders believe a health saving account would help ensure people have a financial stake in their health care decisions and don’t overuse the system.

Mead said he believes the SHARE plan would be cost-neutral and less expensive to the state than the alternatives he’s seen, but that he’s open to suggestions.

“What I don’t want is for us to go through this and the Legislature will say, ‘We don’t like the SHARE plan so we have no plan,’” Mead said.

The governor said the state has been passing on the federal money for four years while working men and woman can’t afford healthcare and state hospitals absorb some $200 million a year in uncompensated care. He said now is the time to move forward.

Not the time to hoard state dollars

The governor said plummeting oil prices should concern everyone across the country, given the jobs the industry directly and indirectly supports. Every $5 drop in oil prices costs Wyoming $35 million, Mead said.

But he said it’s not the time for Wyoming to be hoarders.

“We do not want to have a self-fulfilling prophecy here where we put out a closed sign and say, ‘We don’t have any money and so we’re stopping everything,’” Mead said. “We shouldn’t do that and, in my mind, we can’t do that.”

He said the state should keep saving, but that it’s also time for the state to have a conversation about its reserves and when it’s time to tap into them. Mead would also like a more transparent fiscal process. For example, he said a recent revenue forecast suggests the state has no money to spend, but that doesn’t recognize the record amount of savings socked away in recent years.

Governor till opposes legalizing marijuana in Wyoming.

“I’m not trying to be pig-headed on this,” Mead said. “We will watch and we will see (what happens in Colorado), but I don’t think it is the right direction for Wyoming.”

He’s unconvinced that Colorado’s additional tax dollars and “marijuana tourism” will surpass the impacts to traditional tourism, law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and other areas.

Nebraska and Oklahoma have each sued Colorado over its legalization of the drug, saying that’s negatively impacted them, but Mead indicated he won’t join that fight.

“My position, if we could get there, wouldn’t necessarily be to sue the state of Colorado; it would be to sue the federal government and the Department of Justice,” Mead said.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way for the federal government, the Department of Justice, to ignore an entire set of laws, because in effect then you are changing law — and that should be an act of congress, not an act of an individual man deciding what he would like to do,” Mead said.

Possession and distribution of marijuana remains a federal crime, but the Obama administration has decided not to enforce the laws in states where it’s been legalized.

“I don’t think it’s an appropriate way for the federal government, the Department of Justice, to ignore an entire set of laws, because in effect then you are changing law — and that should be an act of congress, not an act of an individual man deciding what he would like to do,” said Mead, a former federal prosecutor.

No free ride for community college

President Obama’s call to provide free community college educations to all citizens isn’t being echoed by Mead. While praising the value of Wyoming’s community colleges and saying it’s important for them to remain inexpensive, the governor believes students should have some “skin in the game.”

“Education is so important that it is worth some amount of sacrifice,” Mead said.

Mead won't run for re-election in 2018

Two terms as governor is enough, and Mead said he plans to return to ranching after completing the second four-year term that he began this month.

“Even if, in the future, we have the best governor ever, I think it’s important to have that turnover,” Mead said.

He said he supports a current or former governor for president in 2016, listing several potential Republican candidates, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

 ~By CJ Baker

Detention deputies get survival training

Park County detention officers recently took to the floor of the county’s district courtroom — and other places — to learn safety and survival skills.

Detention Deputy Denise Kolacny practices defensive techniques during a bladed weapon attack. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff’s Office
Sheriff’s detention deputies received three days of training from TAC*ONE Consultants of Denver

on how to mitigate threats and survive confrontations. The training included hand-to-hand defensive techniques, use of firearms in combat situations and techniques for retaining control of inmates.

To enhance the realism, some scenarios were held at the Park County Courthouse since transporting inmates to and from the building — and guarding them once inside the courtrooms — are normal parts of deputies’ jobs.

One scenario involved deputies tussling with a courtroom assailant in front of the district court bench.

Each scenario was designed to mirror situations that deputies could face at any moment.

Sgt. Jona Harris is attacked by a spectator (portrayed by TAC*ONE instructor) in the district courtroom while Deputy Karla Turner rushes to intervene. Photo courtesy Park County Sheriff’s Office
“It has been demonstrated that when faced with a high-stress, unfamiliar situation, deputies will instinctively revert to their training,” Detention Lt. Tod Larson stated in a news release. “It is many times the quality of that training that determines the deputy’s chances for survival.”

During another portion of the training, deputies had to demonstrate proficiency with their firearm while under stress, reading and reacting to different situations. The instruction also included techniques for safely handling combative prisoners and bystanders.

Larson said training the entire detention staff at one time promotes team-building and helps ensure each deputy has the same training and philosophical approach to emergency situations.

Patrol deputies from the agency received similar training from TAC*ONE Consulting last August. The firm’s instructors include former law enforcement and special weapons and tactics (SWAT) operators certified in multiple areas.

County willing to pay to stay in wolf fight

Park County commissioners are OK with spending as much as $2,000 to help argue that a federal judge was wrong to put Wyoming’s gray wolves back under more restrictive federal management.

“We’ve gone this far,” said Park County Commissioner Joe Tilden.

The county’s money will help pay Cheyenne attorney Harriet Hageman to write and submit a brief to an appeals court. Hageman will argue that U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson of Washington, D.C., was wrong to reject the state of Wyoming’s plan for managing its wolves.

Hageman serves as the attorney for the Wyoming Wolf Coalition, a group of sportsmen, agricultural interests and local governments like counties; the coalition supported the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over the past couple years as they tried to convince Judge Jackson to reject environmental groups’ challenges to Wyoming’s plan.

Jackson ruled against the state, Fish and Wildlife and defenders of the plan like the Wolf Coalition in September.

All the parties to the lawsuit — both those defending the state plan and the environmental groups opposing it — have filed separate notices saying they may appeal parts of Jackson’s decision.

The Wolf Coalition will only play a supporting role in the appeal, as it is not an actual party to the lawsuit.
A wolf howls in Yellowstone National Park in this 2004 photo, snapped by Jim Peaco of the National Park Service. The animals' legal status was in dispute at the time of the photo and remains so today; Park County commissioners hope to join an appeal of a judge's decision that put Wyoming's wolves back under federal protections.

The county paid $3,000 to join the coalition in February of 2013.

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

However, at the commission’s Dec. 16 meeting, there was some dissent about putting more money into the effort.

Commissioner Lee Livingston, a Wapiti-based outfitter, said he’s a major proponent of the state’s wolf plan, but he questioned whether the expense of joining the appeal was worth it.

“A lot of folks in the industry are of the opinion that it’s good money being sent after bad,” Livingston said.

The commissioner said he and other outfitters don’t believe anything will be gained on appeal.

“No one wants to see them (wolves) gone more than I, but we’re just getting our teeth kicked in on this deal,” Livingston said.

Deputy Park County Attorney Jim Davis told commissioners it’s an important case and that Hageman is a good attorney and advocate. But he said it’s hard to say whether Hageman’s brief will sway the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. It could be an opportunity to present different arguments to the judges, but “on the other hand, those circuit court judges, they’d like to affirm their (district court) judge,” Davis said. “They’d rather affirm them than not.”

“I’ve never met anybody yet that’s said, ‘I’m really disappointed in Park County joining the Wolf Coalition,’” Tilden said.

Livingston was the lone dissenter in the vote to authorize up to $2,000 more for the coalition.

“Hopefully, the appeals court will be rational,” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf.

While the commissioners were down on Judge Jackson’s opinion, her ruling actually upheld the most controversial aspects of Wyoming’s wolf plan — specifically rejecting environmentalists’ objections to the state’s policy of allowing wolves to be killed on sight in most of the state and hunted in the northwest corner.

Jackson overturned the plan because she found Wyoming’s commitments to maintain more than 100 wolves and 10 breeding pairs weren’t legally enforceable.

Tilden said the coalition has spent roughly $20,900 of an initial $22,000 of funding.

Participating in the appeal may cost as much as $8,000 more, Hageman told the Tribune, but she said it’s difficult to know what costs and fees may be incurred. She said her first step will be to file a motion asking the federal court to allow the wolf coalition to participate as an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) in the appeal.

Jan 15, 2015

Assistant Cody police chief accused of excessive force in civil rights lawsuit

Cody’s assistant police chief stands accused of violating a man’s civil rights while searching him for possible explosives four years ago.

In a federal suit filed in September, Juan Paul Flores alleged Assistant Police Chief George Menig “maliciously and without justification or warning, used excessive force ... while Flores was in handcuffs and under arrest.”

Menig had stripped Flores’ clothing and used a Taser after the then-unknown man claimed to have explosives and didn’t cooperate with police; Flores’ civil complaint says those actions were unnecessary and further alleges Menig lifted Flores off the ground by his handcuffs several times during the Sept. 13, 2010, search.

Flores, now 61 and living in North Dakota, says he suffered “severe and permanent injuries and damages” and is seeking an unspecified amount of compensation.

In a response filed in November through his attorneys at the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office, Menig denied violating Flores’ rights and generally rejected the facts as laid out by Flores’ attorney. Menig’s response also says any injuries to Flores were caused by his own actions or existed before the incident.

A federal magistrate judge tentatively scheduled the case for an Oct. 19 trial during a hearing held last week.

Flores had run up to a Park County Sheriff’s deputy’s patrol car near the jail early that 2010 morning to say that he was a member of the Taliban and that he intended to “blow things up.” He repeatedly refused to give his name to police, though at various points he said he was “Johnny Cash” or “Pablo Escobar” and had come into the country from Mexico.

The man — with a long straggly beard, long hair, blue jeans, tan shoes, an oversized white T-shirt, baseball cap and a mostly empty bottle of vodka — also said he was willing to die for the Taliban and planned to blow himself up using nitroglycerin he had swallowed, Cody Police Officer Tom Caudle wrote in his later report. He reportedly told sheriff’s deputy Rayna Wortham that he was from Afghanistan and “wanted ‘us’ to leave them alone.”

He repeatedly refused to give his name to police, though at various points he said he was “Johnny Cash” or “Pablo Escobar” and had come into the country from Mexico.

When Cody Police Officer Josh VanAuken named some Afghanistan provinces and asked which one the man was from, he said he didn’t know, but claimed to have been in the country in 1985 and 1986. VanAuken told the man it was the Mujahideen and not the Taliban who were in Afghanistan at that time.

“The man appeared to have no idea what I was talking about,” VanAuken wrote.

Officers shut off their portable radios and moved back their patrol cars as a precaution for an explosive device, while one officer positioned his vehicle as a kind of barricade. Caudle had handcuffed the man and forced him to sit down. The officer searched the areas around the man’s shirt and waist and found nothing; VanAuken searched the man’s legs, the reports say.

Menig, who had been off-duty, was summoned to the scene shortly before 1 a.m. and was told the man was claiming to have nitroglycerin hidden inside his mouth. The handcuffed man refused to open his mouth.

“At this point, I stripped the male of his clothing to inspect for the presence of components (explosive material and/or a detonator) of an improvised explosive device (IED). Negative results,” Menig wrote in his report.

Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam (left) and Assistant Cody Police Chief George Menig (right) are shown in this July 2014 photo posted to the department's official Facebook page.
When the man continued to refuse to open his mouth, Menig wrote that he put his Taser up against the man’s torso and applied what’s called a “drive stun” for about three seconds. (A “drive stun” is effectively a less-intense use of a Taser that doesn’t involve any probes being fired; it’s intended to hurt, but not immobilize, a person.) When Menig threatened to apply the Taser a second time, and activated (but did not apply) the device close to the man’s torso, he finally opened his mouth, the report says.

Menig found nothing inside.

After some resistance, the man was formally arrested and taken to the nearby Park County jail. There, he refused to give his name and claimed to be a Taliban member who wanted to kill other people, Caudle wrote. It was only the following morning, around 10:30 a.m., that Flores told officers his real identity and that he was not a member of the Taliban.

Deputy Wortham’s report says Flores also expressed suicidal wishes, including that he just wanted to die and only wanted to blow himself up. Public court records indicate that sometime after his arrest, Flores was involuntarily committed to a mental health care facility as an individual deemed to pose a threat to himself or others as a result of mental illness.

Flores’ suit, filed by Jackson attorney John Robinson of the firm Jamieson & Robinson, alleges that Menig’s search was unnecessary and excessive.

“At the time Menig arrived, Flores was arrested, handcuffed, had been searched and posed no harm or danger to any officer or person,” Robinson alleges in a portion of the complaint.

Menig’s response says his actions were legal and reasonable in light of his training and the given circumstances.

“Each and every action taken by defendant Menig with respect to the plaintiff (Flores) were undertaken in good faith and were based upon good cause, consistent with the laws of the United States, and Wyoming statutes,” says one of the defenses asserted on Menig’s behalf by Senior Assistant Attorney General Misha Westby.

After the lawsuit’s September filing, Cody Police Chief Perry Rockvam issued a statement denying some of the allegations and saying the city of Cody was looking forward “to complete and accurate facts about the incident coming out in the judicial process.”

The city is not a defendant in the suit.

Juan Paul Flores is shown in this undated booking photo taken from the Park County Sheriff's website.

The interaction between Menig and Flores was recorded by a surveillance camera mounted on the side of the Cody Law Enforcement Center and copies of the video still exist. However, in response to a public records request, Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said his department no longer has the video in its possession; the original footage was lost years ago when a hard drive crashed, he said.

Flores was initially charged with making terroristic threats, a felony, in connection with the incident but that count was dismissed in mid-November 2010 as part of a deal with the Park County Attorney’s Office. Flores instead pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of interference with a peace officer.

Circuit Court Judge Bruce Waters, accepting the plea agreement, credited Flores for the 63 days he’d spent in custody and ordered him to pay $190 and serve a year of unsupervised probation. Another 297 days of jail time was suspended, along with the $300 fine that normally accompanies convictions for interference.

Flores left $90 unpaid before dropping out of contact with the court and, as a result, a warrant for his arrest was issued in April 2011. Sheriff’s records show the warrant remains active — meaning that, in theory, Flores could be arrested and brought back to Park County if and when he returns to Wyoming.

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